constable the haywain
‘Painting is with me but another word for feeling’
– John Constable
It is fortunate that several preliminary studies for this composition have survived, for they enable us to obtain an insight into the artist’s method of work. To begin with, there are the sketches from nature made in his early years, upon which Constable drew throughout his career. For example, there is a small oil sketch of Willy Lott’s cottage in the Museum which has been dated about 1810-15. As was his practice with oil sketches of this period, he blocked in the main features in broad masses of strong, bright colours, giving the work a rough texture and a surprisingly modern appearance.
The Haywain itself was created by John Constable in 1821 at the height of his skills and experience. It is a crying shaming that he was to pass away at only 60, just 16 years after he produced The Haywain when surely any further years would likely have included many more classic British landscape paintings.
The success of John Constable is shown with the prominence of his paintings even today within only the finest galleries of the United Kingdom where he produced his exceptional art, plus also the extraordinary prices which are attributed to his paintings within auctions on the rare occasions that they come up for sale.
Painted in oils on canvas, the work depicts as its central feature three horses pulling what in fact appears to be a wood wain or large farm wagon across the river. Willy Lott’s Cottage, also the subject of an eponymous painting by Constable, is visible on the far left. The scene takes place near Flatford Mill in Suffolk, though since the Stour forms the border of two counties, the left bank is in Suffolk and the landscape on the right bank is in Essex.
Sold at the exhibition with three other Constables to the dealer John Arrowsmith, The Hay Wain was brought back to England by another dealer, D. T. White; he sold it to a Mr. Young who resided in Ryde on the Isle of Wight. It was there that the painting came to the attention of the collector Henry Vaughan and the painter Charles Robert Leslie.  On the death of his friend Mr. Young, Vaughan bought the painting from the former’s estate; in 1886 he presented it to the National Gallery in London, where it still hangs today.  In his will Vaughan bequeathed the full-scale oil sketch for The Hay Wain, made with a palette knife, to the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum). 
Instead Constable sketched what he saw and ultimately what he knew well, having lived near this farm as a boy.
Although Constable is famous for being one of the first landscape painters to create canvases purely based on nature, he did not paint The Hay Wain on site. Instead he created several sketches in the summer of 1821 and produced the finished oil version in his London studio in the winter of the same year.
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